Job is Innocent – And He Proves Faithful (RJS)

Job is Innocent – And He Proves Faithful (RJS) November 13, 2012

The prose prologue to the book of Job, found in chapters 1 and 2, introduces a number of issues that challenge standard Christian presuppositions.  The commentaries by John Walton (Job (The NIV Application Commentary)) and Tremper Longman III (Job (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms)), both their agreements and their differences, help us explore the ways that the book of Job challenges our comfortable presuppositions.

I started the post last week putting out three major points from the prologue of Job:

First, Job is not on trial, God is on trial. Although the legal metaphor is not carried through consistently in the book, it appears most strongly in the prologue.

Second, the challenger or accuser is not Satan.

Third, Job is innocent, and he proves faithful.

The book of Job is not about Job, it is a thought experiment that explores the way God works in the world and the appropriate human response to God.  The challenger or accuser is almost certainly not Satan as understood in later Christian theology. Today I would like to concentrate on the third point – Job is innocent, and he passes the challenge – he worships God through proper motive.

Job is not a sinner in the hands of an angry God. In the book of Job we see no hint of Job as a sinner in the hands of an angry God. He is not portrayed as intrinsically guilty through the sin of Adam. The message of the book is not that Job, and the rest of us, should rejoice in God’s mercy, marveling that he/we occasionally get blessings instead of the destruction, punishment, and devastation we all deserve from the depravity of our very being.

Job is portrayed at the beginning of the book, and from the very mouth of God, as righteous. (I quote from Longman’s translation as the NIV used by Walton is readily available elsewhere.)

And Yahweh said to the accuser, “Have you considered my servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, and innocent and virtuous man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (Job 1:8 – Longman p. 76)

After loss of his wealth, servants and children by a combination of “natural” and human disasters, we have one of the most famous passages from the lips of Job:

Job rose up and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell to the ground and worshiped, saying, “Naked  I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return there. Yahweh gave and Yahweh took, blessed be the name of Yahweh.” In all of this, Job did not sin, and he did not ascribe wrongdoing to God.  (Job 1:20-23 – Longman p. 76)

When the accuser returns to the council God again extols Job’s righteousness.

And Yahweh said to the accuser, “Have you considered my servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, and innocent and virtuous man, fearing God and turning away from evil. He still maintains his innocence though you enticed me to injure him for no good reason.” (Job 2:3 – Longman p. 77)

After Job is struck with boils and is sitting outside in the dust we have another famous exchange, this time between Job and his wife. But still Job did not sin.

And his wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your innocence? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You are speaking like one of the foolish women. Should we receive good from God and not receive evil?” In all this, Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:9-10 – Longman p, 77)

Longman finds is unlikely that the wording of the last phrase here indicates that Job sinned in his heart. “The point of the story is that Job ends these two tests by staying firmly in relationship with God.” (p. 90 – Longman)  Walton agrees: “This leaves unaddressed the question whether he has “cursed God in his heart,” but nothing has indicated any wavering of his commitment.” (p. 105 – Walton)  We have no evidence or reason to believe that Job sinned in his heart.

The innocence of Job. The innocence of Job does not mean that he lived a life of absolute perfection. He may have spoken to people with unreasoned anger, he may have occasionally succumbed to pride … who knows. In fact he admits something like this in the dialogues to come. Absolute perfection isn’t the point, and the ancient Israelites didn’t have a naive view of human perfection. Righteousness and innocence meant being right with God – and there are many, many OT passages that indicate that this was considered humanly possible and could be expected.

Longman has a serious discussion of the theological implications of the innocence of Job. As Christians we need to take the entire Bible into account. The story of Job does not negate the words of Paul in Romans, or render the atoning work of Christ unnecessary. But it should, perhaps, challenge some of our assumptions and presuppositions as we try to understand the nature of God’s relationship with his creation.

Walton returns to his emphasis that God’s policies of reward for behavior are on trial. If people only love God, or appear to love God for what they get out of it, it is meaningless.  All Job did that was “righteous” may have been out of purely selfish motivation. There is no indication in the description of the ritual righteousness of Job that he loved God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. Although we find in the dialogues that he behaved properly toward the poor, the widow and orphan, there is also no indication that he loved others as himself. (Interestingly the image at the top of this post, from William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job, depicts the righteousness of Job through his acts of charity as Satan prepares to smite Job with boils.)

Job passes the test because his actions because his action in the face of loss of his wealth and health reveal no flawed motive for his awe and worship of God.  God was incited against Job to ruin Job without reason (Heb. hinnam)(Job 2:3) and Job remains faithful.

Such assertions confirm again that nothing that happens to Job can be construed as punishment for some offense; Job’s righteousness continues to be confirmed from all sources. We should again emphasize that Job is not portrayed as totally sinless, but as one who does not deserve the tragedies that have befallen him. (p. 101 – Walton)

Asking the wrong questions. Is God cruel to accede to the challenge put forward by the accuser?  This is the wrong question to ask. It is the wrong question to ask because of the form, genre, and purpose of the book of Job.  Walton puts it quite clearly:

Finally, I would again emphasize my belief that even though built on a forensic model, this is wisdom literature and is devised as a thought experiment, not as something that Yahweh actually did. It is designed to raise issues and discuss philosophical options. If so we should not misguidedly enter into a discussion of whether Yahweh’s action was justifiable or cruel. (p. 110 – Walton)

I think we would also be misguided to dig too deeply into the innocence of Job or draw too much significance from his innocence. This is a thought experiment, not the record of an actual event. But insofar as the purpose of the innocence of Job is to challenge the idea of what Longman calls Retribution Theology and Walton refers to as the Retribution Principle, the innocence of Job does tell us something of the relationship between God and man. And I think it does set limits on the degree to which we should view mankind as sinners in the hands of an angry God – deserving only of devastation and destruction.

Does the innocence of Job challenge your view of God’s response to “original sin”?

What should we make of the innocence of Job?

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  • There are those, of course, who will argue Job was a real person and the events described in the book are real events. What do we say to them? Our thoughts and conclusions will differ enormously depending on our view of the book’s purpose, whether it’s history or a thought experiment.

    For me, Job’s innocence reveals powerfully that Yahweh is way beyond us in understanding, wisdom, and knowledge. If Job had a fault at all it was thinking that he should be able to fully comprehend the motives of the Most High. He could not. Neither can we.

    The greatest danger we face is to take Job’s suffering as evidence that Father is not fundamentally loving. But he does love Job and is even proud of him. ‘Look at my servant Job’.

  • RJS


    I agree with much you say here. God does love Job and is proud of him.

    I think that those who argue that the events described in the book of Job are real events have a big interpretative and theological problem. Many of them seem to turn around and in the next breath rationalize away the significance of the events in the book of Job. God can do whatever he wants (true of course), Job wasn’t really innocent – he had to repent of his sin, his children and servants deserved death on their own demerits, Job’s detractors were correct (despite the fact that in the last chapter Job has to offer sacrifices and pray for them to save them) …

  • Rick


    “I think that those who argue that the events described in the book of Job are real events have a big interpretative and theological problem.”

    You may think that, but since it has been held by many as real events for countless years/centuries, they do not see such a “problem”.

  • RJS


    Haven’t they, the commentary writers and such, wrestled with the problems of Job though? Wrestled to make it fit? Aquinas, for example, seems to have rationalized away the significance of Job’s suffering as not a big deal in the light of the glory of heaven to come. (This I got second hand – so someone with more knowledge may correct me.) Others claim that Job really was guilty and deserved what he got … but what then of the words of God himself in the beginning of Job?

    Job isn’t that easy to deal with. We can look at options in interpretation … what are the alternatives?

  • good post! and encouraging to one who has suffered recently. Thank you!

  • josh

    I agree with your post that Job is wisdom literature, and more of a thought experiment struggling with deuteronomic theology and wisdom such as that found in the book of proverbs: Keep covenant and God will bless you, break covenant and God will curse you. Job and Ecclesiastes push back on that type of thinking.
    But here’s where i want to push back as well. I grew up with an image of Job as sinless and extremely patient amidst a life that’s unhinged. While I don’t want to make the case that I NOR anyone I have ever met could do a better job than Job as presented in this book of the bible. What I do want to push back on is the case that Job was innocent.
    I too, read this book as if God was on trial and not Job…but here’s an important point that was raised to me later in life. Chapter 1 verse 22 closes with “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing”. But what about Chapter 3? Job “curses” the day he was born…take it back….may it never have happened…it isn’t right nor fair…and yet as another famous line from Job is “the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away, blessed be the name of the LORD”. The LORD is the author of life, the one responsible for Job’s birth. If he curses his birth, is he not also cursing the one who gave him birth? Job does blame God for what’s happening to him. Now I don’t think that justifies anyone who makes that case that he is deserving of punishment…but I think the patience of Job only lasts till chapter 3.
    I don’t wish to join Job’s friends in explaining why all this is happening to him. I am merely pointing out an inconsistency with ho Job is presented often.
    thanks for the postings.

  • Rodney Reeves


    I haven’t read these commentaries (I should!), but what do you/they make of the first 5 verses of Job? Some have found reason to question Job’s “innocence” in his attempt to atone for the revelry of his children–but it doesn’t work since his children are the victims of The Satan’s first test (vv. 13-19).

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    I also agree with RJS on the innocence of Job or his being in a right relationship with God. I think Job cursing his birth, questioning God and all you see Job oing is pushing back on God, but it can be done nevertheless (contra, you can not wish you were ever born—sin. Or, you can’t question God—sin). Theologically, I believe the book of Job shows there can be a lot of give and take, back and forth with God. God is bigger and tougher and greater than we think. Lastly, I think we have to “read” the book of Job as historical in the sense of “how would I respond if I were in this sitution or going through this?” Although the whole story may be a literary vehicle to teach us theological truths to apply to our lives, we must do this nevertheless or I think we miss allowing the Holy Spirit to speak specifically to us and view the book as general principles and symbols to follow.

    1. It can be possible that the book of Job is loosely based upon a historical person who went through great tragedy? This book then becomes a literary exercise in extrapolating certain misconceptions that need to be corrected about God within wisdom literature form and features. This then could mean that there may have been a historical Job but we can’t push the literary features of the book of Job too far because we have to understand the literary background and literary language of this book.

    2. One of the main things that separates Job from his friends are his words in the beginning of chapter 16. Job kind of puts into practice the golden rule of “do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” Job says I could do to you what you are doing to me but what profit would that be? Job says, “no, I would comfort you and encourage you with my mouth rather than heap insults and be of no comfort at all” (my paraphrase).

  • MatthewS

    wow, lots of good stuff packed into this one. I’m glad you are doing this, RJS (and Scot).

    I wouldn’t take a bullet for it, but I am willing to accept Job as historical, based on actual events. If the message of Job is intended to have meaning for my life, that meaning should be effective for the actual Job, if there was such. Walton and Longman both obviously deserve much weight to be given to their understandings.

    btw, I’m willing to accept the Babylonian Theodicy as inspired by true events as well. It is not only believers in YHWH God who have questions about what God / the gods are up to.

    Psalm 73, Job, the NT saints and us: we all have to wrestle with God’s “blue parakeets” (if I could borrow and perhaps misuse that term) – the things that seem to fit sideways within God’s own rule. One of the things I have come away with in the past is that there are aspects of God and his plan that I simply won’t understand in this life but that he walks with me through the valley as well as on the mountain. Life on a fallen planet is going to be painful – I think we in the West (and as humans in general) feel entitled to a free pass on that.

    Postmoderns have become more comfortable with tension. There is tension in God being both good and powerful while pain exists on his watch; I wonder if this is a place where we need to look for beauty in this tension as well. Perhaps there is more to God’s plan on earth than ensuring good fortune (I don’t mean this callously, I speak from within the cloud of uncertainty, not outside it). As long as children are born with Downs Syndrome or cancer, or on the other extreme, with gifted abilities, that alone is enough to set off a lifetime of some version of these questions.

  • MatthewS

    “Although we find in the dialogues that he behaved properly toward the poor, the widow and orphan, there is also no indication that he loved others as himself.”

    This is a minor point, but I believe that Keller in “Generous Justice” is more generous to Job on this. Job acts in line with tsedek & mishpat. More than merely not oppressing the poor and vulnerable, he has helped them in ways that eased their suffering and makes their life happier. It seems to me that Job is essentially caring for others as he would have them care for him, thus fulfilling the spirit of justice and righteousness from the heart.

    Job 29:11-17
    Whoever heard me spoke well of me,
    and those who saw me commended me,
    because I rescued the poor who cried for help,
    and the fatherless who had none to assist them.
    The one who was dying blessed me;
    I made the widow’s heart sing.
    I put on righteousness as my clothing;
    justice was my robe and my turban.
    I was eyes to the blind
    and feet to the lame.
    I was a father to the needy;
    I took up the case of the stranger.
    I broke the fangs of the wicked
    and snatched the victims from their teeth.

    Job 30:25
    Have I not wept for those in trouble?
    Has not my soul grieved for the poor?

  • Norman


    I think you are doing a magnificent job on Job. I believe the issues you are uncovering and dealing with stretch across the fabric of OT and NT theology, especially how wisdom literature is utilized by the Jews to make people think through complex issues.

    Just a point or 2 about Righteousness before God; it appears that the Jewish Idea of righteousness lies at the root of relationship with God and depends upon ones unconditional adoration of God (as Job illustrates). 2T literature portrays Adam in the Garden as righteous and as a priest who offers sacrifices for others like Job (Jubilees 3).

    The High Priest also enters into the Holy of Holies and is righteous and is appointed to offer sacrifices for the faithful (Jews first and the Gentiles as in the feast of tabernacles). Christ comes and enters the Holy of Holies:

    (Heb 9: 11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.)

    His sacrifice eternally reconnects the faithful as the Great High Priest. Job appears to be a picture of a patriarch in the vein of Adam/Abraham/Priest in the Garden whose adoration of God is his righteousness. This especially goes back to Abraham in whom our faith is to be emulated to allow us to be the true children of Abraham (Rom 9).

    In doing so we emulate Job’s righteousness as well which I believe is crucial to understanding biblical OT and NT contextual righteousness. The tension between the Law and righteousness in the OT and NT underlies their purpose in helping to point out as Paul does explicitly in Romans how the Jews fell from the Garden when they took to the Law/commandment as the path to righteousness.

    Rom 7: 9 And I was alive apart from law once, and the command having come, the sin revived, and I died; and the command that [is] for life, this was found by me for death; for the sin, having received an opportunity, through the command, did deceive me, and through it did slay [me]; …

    Job appears therefore to emulate righteousness in the original Jewish concept that had been lost in the Garden via the deception of the commandment due to the (beguiling serpent) who Jesus stated offspring represented the corrupt priesthood of the second Temple. That is a theme that is painted throughout the OT and in Job as well.

  • Tim Atwater

    Thanks RJS for this post.
    Just this morn (before logging in) in prayer and study time I asked God — ‘so what is our take on karma?’

    Many Christians often appear to be operating functionally much like Hindus — ascribing to caste and karma theories in much the same way as (older school, presumably?) Hindus…(if you are born poor and dark-skinned, that’s your karma — we don’t mingle with untouchables, as it might be contagious… that is, might get us off track in racking up our own ‘good karma’ — ascribing to right views, being seen with right people, living long and prospering, etc etc etc…)

    And the rather clear answer (I am attributing to the Holy Spirit, assuming this has firm biblical basis — Job and the gospels especially) —
    is that karma, cause and effect, is indeed happenign in virtually all things… (grace interrupts and transforms but doesn’t obliterate cause and effect)…

    Yet we are wrong to think of karma orcause and effect as simply micro-karma.
    Communal-Congregational-(even cultural) karma-cause-and-effect — in both sin and grace… are also always at work…
    As the psalms — for example 130, 131, 146…and gospels make abundantly clear on close reading… oft going seamslessly back and forth from singular personal to congregational-communal — from me to Israel… Israel, God-wrestler… me, who ought to be God-wrestling… Mary’s magnificat takes the same route… from me to Israel, to Abraham and his descendants forever…

    Reading in this mode, Job is to be heard in both the singular and the congregational-communal person…
    the specifics of his history and ours may or may not be of eternal importance –but the hearing of the word as delivered to and through Job to him and to us is of an essential and timeless (till fullness of Kingdom come at least) order of priority…

    Someone has said — Job’s friends are theologians.
    Job is incarnational.

    Grace and peace,

  • CGC

    Hi Norman,
    Thanks for always bringing in other insights into the discussion. The whole priestly insight resonates more with me than the argument that because Job offered sacrifices for his kids meant Job was not righteous as the rest of the book suggests.

  • CGC

    Hi Tim and all,
    Jobs friends are theologians (I love that 🙂 I also take Job as a kind of Christ figure in the Old Testament. Job like Jesus is a righteous sufferer. A man of many sorrows.

  • Norman


    Yes, I think only one who is righteous is in position to offer sacrifices for others. I believe that is infered in declaring Job as one who was able to offer sacrifices for his children and others. That is essentialy an OT priestly position as best I can determine. Jews who understood their yearly day of atonement by the High Priest would have grasped the significance of that implication from Jobs story much better than we who are not intimately aquainted with their temple Liturgy.

    The High Priest wasn’t righteous on their own merit but “assumed” righteousness by entering beyond the veil into the Holy of Holies which brings them into the Heavenlies (face to face with God)and enables them to offer the yearly sacrifice. Thus they were able to impart this yearly righteousness to the faithful of Israel until the better High Priest and sacrifice arrived.

    “Heb 9:6 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second ONLY THE HIGH PRIEST goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that THE WAY INTO THE HOLY PLACES IS NOT YET OPENED AS LONG AS THE FIRST TABERNACLE IS STILL STANDING (which is symbolic for the present age).”

    You might now understand why I point toward the desolation of the 2nd Temple as the sign prophesied by Christ as of utmost importance to fulfilled prophecy as understood by the Jewish Christians. It was the sign of Christ coming back out of the Holy of Holies (Heaven) to comlete the atonement Liturgy. The Temple practices were a symbol of the realities of Christ.

    Heb 9:15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

  • Rodney Reeves

    One wonders how the poor would read Job’s story. That is to say, our readings feel like a privileged reading with regard to Job’s “priestly” work on behalf of his children. In a world of limited goods, when the rich are celebrating their wealth, is that God’s blessing or human presumption? I can’t help but hear Jesus’ parable of the rich man ringing in my ears when I think about our readings of Job and his “innocence.”

  • Norman


    Perhaps we read too literally when we read accounts of wealth as blessings as that perhaps isn’t the spiritual intent that is being portrayed. Wisdom literature explores issues from many different vantage points and symbolism. Perhaps there isn’t a set in stone limitation or expectation as everything must be filtered through the Great Commandments and through Christ Himself. It’s dangerous to take one point of a biblical discussion and overly apply it without nuance. When I make a point it doesn’t mean that it rules out a deeper or broader discussion.

    There are many issues in scripture that seem contridictory until we perhaps filter them through much larger contextual filters, sometimes because we simply aren’t as aware of the ancient medium as we might need to be.

  • James

    If this story didn’t actually happen then what does it or can it really “prove”? You could make up any story you wanted to support anything that you want. But that doesn’t make it true.
    Hypothesis- God loves dogs more than cats.
    Then provide a big long thought experiment explaining how dogs are mans best friend, and cats are horrible demon possessed creatures.
    None of this proves anything to anybody unless Job really past the test and physically proved it.
    Just a thought, I could be totally off.
    FYI, I’ve REALLY been enjoying this series. Thanks

  • AHH

    James @18, it seems that your logic would dismiss all the parables of Jesus as worthless, because the stories “didn’t actually happen”.

  • Rodney Reeves


    I agree. And, as I thought about my comment later, I didn’t mean to distract from RJS’ point. For the most part, I resonate with her reading. I especially like the idea of a “thought experiment.” Indeed, there seem to be double (yea, even triple?) resonances in Job. In fact, Job’s story has a reflective quality, doesn’t it? Like the parables of Jesus, our reading says as much about us as it does about the narrative world of the story.

  • RJS

    James (#18),

    AHH made part of the point I would make, referring to the teaching we find in the parables of Jesus.

    The other point is that I accept the message of Job as authoritative because it is part of the canon of scripture, through the tradition of the church by the power of the Holy Spirit. The genre of Job is not what gives it authority.

  • Jeff

    I am not sure what the topic of “original sin” has to do with the Book of Job. SO to answer the question, it has nothing to do say on the subject.

    Job was innocent. Job 42:8 says so – Job was correct in what he said, though he can be accused of ignorance.

  • RJS


    We don’t have to take Job’s word for his innocence. God says Job is innocent.

    Many Christians will say, however, that because of original sin absolutely no one is or can be innocent. This is where I see the book of Job causing us to think a bit perhaps..

  • Kyle F

    RJS, your initial qualifications about the definition of innocence — ie innocence including moments of pride or unrestrained emotion, etc. — are intriguing when applied to our thinking about Christ’s own sinlessness or innocence. Could his righteousness and innocence allow for similar moral hiccups inessential to his overarching posture before God? Could he misspeak, and if so, is it a foregone conclusion that the NT writers and editors would cut these errors and potential ambiguities, and how would we know whether they had? A bit off topic….

  • “Is God cruel to accede to the challenge put forward by the accuser?” — many scholars have raised this issue. I think this highlights the need to read Job as wisdom literature. On this point let me plug my article, “Malevolent or Mysterious? God’s Character in the Prologue of Job,” Tyndale Bulletin 61.2 (Nov 2010) (

  • Larry S

    James @ 18

    Since I hate cats your thought experiment really helped me grasp the deep truth that all cats are Servants of Satan. Your story proved it for me, specially when I compared dogs to cats.

  • MikeW

    RJS, Bruce Waltke has a reading of Job in which Job goes from a simplistic belief in God (a strict Retribitionary view) to being confused and confronted with the tragedy of human life, and after the theophany, to repenting of his former certainties and presumptions whereby he surrenders to God and attains true wisdom. This attributes a development in Job’s character while maintaining his innocence thorougout. I’ve always found that reading intreaguing. Does it fit with what your suggesting?

  • RJS


    It is intriguing.

    I’ll take a look at Waltke’s reading as I go through the book. I am currently reading the commentaries and posting on them as I go. So I haven’t really gotten beyond the prologue as far as looking what scholars have to say about it.

  • WingedBeast

    I gotta say, the question of if God is cruel here isn’t the wrong thing to ask. Especially if this is a thought experiment, the question of if God is morally justified in taking these actions (in this case, freeing up the current satan to torture Job, and thus being responsible for said torture) must be asked.

    If the purpose of this story is to be judgement, let judgement be laid down upon God. Is the character of someone who would actively allow a loyal follower to be tortured in order to prove that follower’s loyalty, and for no other reason than to do so, morally acceptable?

    It’s worth noting that Job’s wife and Job’s friends are faced with a dichotomy. Either Job deserves his suffering or God explicitly makes people suffer for no reason.